Readings for morning prayer
105 Your word is a lantern to my feet •
and a light upon my path.
106 I have sworn and will fulfil it, •
to keep your righteous judgements.
107 I am troubled above measure; •
give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept the freewill offering of my mouth, O Lord, •
and teach me your judgements.
109 My soul is ever in my hand, •
yet I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, •
but I have not strayed from your commandments.
111 Your testimonies have I claimed as my heritage for ever; •
for they are the very joy of my heart.
112 I have applied my heart to fulfil your statutes: •
always, even to the end.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
Sermon on Sunday – Trinity Five
I spoke a few weeks ago about the two ways, which the Fathers of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church preached about – that way of death and the way of life. The Fathers of the Church urged everyone to the way of life – in other words, “the way” as the earliest christians called their path of faithfulness. The ways are contrasted starkly in our epistle this morning.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Previously, Paul was speaking to his audience about the domination of ourselves by our mortal bodies, how we wickedly behave because we obey the rule of flesh and the passions. Here Paul is making the argument anew, by positively speaking of this way of life.
Paul acknowledges that whoever is faithful to Jesus is no longer under that ancient Law which defines what sin is and subjugates everything to itself. The Law of the Jews was a tyranny. Paul goes on to say, that law no longer applies to those who are born anew in Christ, those who are “under grace”. No longer are we slaves in any way, never to be dominated by passions which drag us down into the depths of human incorrigibility. Rather Paul says we should realise that we are servants of grace, that we should present ourselves in righteous behaviour for the sake of sanctification. Paul radically divides the two ways we can behave, doesn’t he? On the one hand we are dominated by thoughts which have nothing to do with righteousness, and on the other we aspire to holiness. Paul exhorts us to choose the way of life, that way which is so hard to follow, but which is so rewarding.
Paul wanted to speak in human terms a few chapters ago, and now he continues in that vein, explicitly exhorting us to choose life. The choice is between the flesh on the one hand and the spirit on the other, as Paul sets it out for us.
In these purely human terms, the choice between flesh and spirit is clear, and he tells us that there is only one way we should be moving. Paul wants humanity to aspire to greater things than “the things of the flesh” – in essence he is asking us whether we want life and peace. Paul is offering a change of behaviour at life’s very root. No one has to define himself, or herself, in terms of sinfulness any more. Now people can see themselves as new creations – beings who are defined by transcendence rather than being incarcerated in immanence. No longer, Paul tells us, do we have to be weakened by the flesh, that flesh that is so weak it cannot do what one wills it to do. Rather, reborn in the waters of baptism we follow the Spirit. In other words, no longer are we hostile to God – nor, I hasten to add, should we be hostile to any other person. We now show the love of God to all creation, caring for the other in a fundamental way, that way of christian love, αγαπη
How can we be petty or vindictive, subject to the wickedness of the flesh, when the Spirit of God dwells in us, when we are showing love to all? Paul is challenging us to the heights of righteousness. Paul is convinced, and Paul has convinced me, that as a faithful christian, I can excel and raise myself beyond the limitations of the law of sin, to be no longer subject to the law because in the spirit I can be loving, I can be holy. In the spirit I am free and can free others into freedom through αγαπη
I should be able to see myself in a new way – as someone destined to righteousness. I should be able to walk a new path, one that has no predetermined course. In other words I can live with goodness as my only goal with the free spirit to guide me.
Paul says, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” He divides the human life up dramatically, the flesh on the sinister side and the spirit on the side of righteousness.
What does all of this mean when we leave the sacred precincts of this particular church? What does it mean for my everyday life – that I have chosen to walk in the way, to live in the Spirit which God has given through Jesus Christ and my faith in the saving act of the cross? Paul is challenging us to work at our faith in human terms, because he speaks to us within our limitations. We are incarnate beings, enfleshed and so very confined. Paul is speaking to us here and now. Paul is speaking to us as we find ourselves hemmed in by circumstances and our own flesh. We all understand this person of flesh and blood he addresses, but we also aspire to be good, holy, loving and peaceable. Don’t we all want to be people of integrity? Isn’t this the motive Paul arouses within us?
I keep speaking of the philosopher, because I think, in this case, he puts us on the right track with respect to human integrity – what a lot of people now call authenticity. The philosopher speaks to the wholeness of the person in each and every act. He says these acts define us at our ownmost possibility. I would like to make that a little easier to understand in this way – in each of our acts, we reveal who we really are. The logic of symbols plays itself out in our actions, whether they are seen or not.
If we are venal, our collective and singular acts will reveal our attachment to “the flesh”. If we pursue righteousness, we will be revealed as lively and pacific – we will be seen as “spiritual” where what is beneficial to all will be seen as a mark of all that I do. No longer do my selfish urges determine my actions – though they may colour them.
What I am in my ownmost being is what Paul is encouraging us to be. And that being is one of life, righteousness and ultimately peace in myself and with all around me. I suppose that is what attracts us to the lives of the saints, because they live a righteous life at peace with God, with themselves and with everyone else, even if they might be at odds with this fellow or that. (The holy fathers of the Church prove that point.) But ultimately the saints only wish to bring everyone to the peace of God which they have found.
Even Augustine desired this ultimate holiness, although he was not sure when that should come to him. Didn’t he say, “not just yet”? Well, we all want to act righteously, but we often can’t find the right time for the right action, can we?
Paul encourages us to try every moment to take the way of life, that we will strive for the good and righteousness at every moment in our lives. Let’s cast the doubt of Augustine away and move forward in faith this year, when we can live life in all its fullness and at peace with all.